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"Staining the nails, skin and hair with henna is the favorite way of enhancing beauty amongst women in the Middle East. It is used as both a hair treatment as well as a dye to make decorative designs on the skin. Henna cosmetics are made from the Egyptian evergreen plant, Lawsonia inermis, whose shoots and leaves yield an extract which is mixed with catechu, an astringent substance obtained from various trees and shrubs. Arabians crush dried berries from this plant to obtain a red powder.

Black henna (saumer) is reserved for the soles of the feet and hands while red henna is used for the tips of the fingers and toes. It involves the additional use of another paste made from powdered lime (nura) and powdered crystal amoniac (shanadah). The orange markings then turn black and then remain on the skin for about twenty or thirty days. Both red and black henna can commonly be purchased from international grocery stores." --Me'ira

"...She also mentioned that applying henna to the hands or feet is becoming quite the fad [1997] with the "beautiful people" in the Los Angeles area. Salons are charging $45-60 for the process. Perhaps I am in the wrong business." --Izora

"I saw a henna design on a model's arm in "Marie Claire" magazine this month [Feb 1997]... thought it was a tattoo until I notice it was flaking off! (I'm obviously talking about a henna-design-in-the-making, not the finished result of spending hours caked with goop!" --Zimra

"This month's [June 1997] US magazine has a short article about mehndi, with a few pictures. Guess it's getting trendy, now that Hollywood has discovered it." --Joya

Recipes and Methods

All the following recipes have common elements and tips, though some are more detailed. Common elements include: 1) picking a good quality/the right kind of henna, (2) using something to help "set" the henna mixture like lemon juice, and some include ingredients that help darken or strengthen the henna stains (make them last longer), like black tea, etc. When I have a chance, I will synthesize and organize this section, but for now, here are all the individual descriptions:

"The application of henna is a ritual which may take up to 6 hours. After all ingredients are mixed and designs applied the person shouldn't disturb painted areas for 6 hours or more, depending upon the richess of color and how long you want the design to stay on. This recipe was given by a Moroccan woman for henna application:

  1. Purchase fresh red powder henna (Afshan or Sadaq brands boxed and wrapped.
  2. one cup brewed black tea, allowed to sit overnight
  3. 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice from a lemon which sat in the sun 12 hours or more,
  4. brass bowl, not ceramic,
  5. mixing spoon,
  6. Rose and Orange water to wash hands and feet before application.
For application, the traditional N. African tool is a Mishwak pick, but you can also use cake decorators, stencils from craft shops (taped to body first)." --Me'ira, Kim

"First of all, make sure your henna is of good quality. I usually buy it in little boxes at indian grocery stores; I have found that the bulk henna at the local health food co-op just doesn't give a good color in comparison.

Second: be sure your skin is clean and free from all lotions, oils, etc. These will prevent your henna from absorbing!

Third: Use boiling water, preferrably bottled/distilled (though the tap water around here isn't a problem). Now -- here comes the big secret -- MORDANT! You need to add some lemon or lime juice (preferrably fresh) to get the color to set. I use at least 2 tablespoons. Let the henna sit for a bit before you apply it, so it can cool down and do its thing.

(The best method I have *ever* found is from the U.A.E. -- dry limes (I dry them in slices -- they dry quicker, and it seems to work better) then boil the dried limes in water until the water turns red. I dry from 3 to 6 limes at a time, lose a few pieces to mold, and have enough for one big batch. This gives the most *incredible* dark color... I had henna patterns on my hands for almost an entire *month* after the Pennsic henna party... my fingernails are grown out about 2/3's, toenails are still mostly henna).

Fourth: I leanred this great trick at Pennsic from a woman who lives in Egypt. You take a heavy-duty plastic bag (like you get at women's clothing stores) and cut a piece out, twist it into a funnel, and pin it together. Fill with henna, and you have the neatest, most precise tool! I have tried toothpicks, orange sticks, syringes, and tubes -- the make-it-yourself funnel is the best I have ever seen! I still keep toothpicks and and orange stick on hand to clean up the lines of my design... plus I use a big paintbrush to do my nails. (As I mentioned off-handedly, *don't* do your nails unless you can handle orange nails for months to come!)

Fifth: Leave the henna on as long as you can stand it. I went nuts the one time I wrapped my hands and feet in gauze, and I messed up the patterns besides. I let it dry, then when it cracks I fill in the holes with a few dabs of watery henna; then I let it dry some more, and moisten it with lemon or lime juice from time to time. It will set better if it dries with heat, stick your hands in the sun, or dry them around a candle flame (this is hard!) or use a hair dryer (my favorite trick). When you do need to remove it, scrape it off, don't just wash it off.

I've been doing henna for quite a number of years, and I've tried it with varying temperatures of water, with lemon juice, lime juice, clove oil, and just plain water. What I've detailed above works the best. I haven't tried using olive oil (from the clove oil experience, I'd say this will give it a weird texture. But Sartahk assures me he had a girlfriend who did her hair this way) or using strong tea, or moistening it with sugar-water; these tips came to me after I had perfected my method (don't fix it if it ain't broke! :-) but I'll probably try them someday, just to see how they work!" --Zimra, henna veteran

"Mix henna & water to form paste add a little lemon or lime, and a bit of nail polish remover.

Mix it all so that it is still thick, kind of a globby mix. If you don't already have plans for how you want to decorate, there are two things you can do: get a syringe (without needle), fill it up with henna, and use it to drizzle the henna mix in patterns over your skin. OR you could get heavy tape (black electrical or duct tape-- I wouldn't recommend this for non-hairless areas) and draw designs out on it, cut the designs out, and then put it over your skin so that the designs are holes which will be filled with henna. This is a little more complicated.

After you put it on and it dries a bit, swab the area with a cotton ball dipped in a mixture of oil and lemon juice. Just lightly. Then wrap your hands, feet, whatever, in cotton and put socks on. Leave on over night. The next morning, scratch the caked and dried henna off. The designs will be orange at first but they will darken. Try not to wash the area for a day or so, if you can help it.

I lived with a family in Morocco and this was the treatment I got-- they'd bring a woman into the house to do all this. She'd put my feet over a little charcoal brazier to dry while she did my hands. It took several hours but was very exciting. I think the secret is leaving it on for many hours and trying not to rub off the henna. I've tried doing this on my own and the recipe seems to work out well." --Rachel

Other Tips

"I'm sure others know much more than I do about this, but from what I've heard, it helps to keep the henna warm, even after applying it....I've heard of ladies wrapping their hands/feet with plastic wrap to keep the mud on and then wrap with warm towels, so the dye stains more...same principle as using a plastic bag and a hairdryer on hair with conditioner in it. Use boiling water to mix the henna. I've also heard of mixing the henna with lemon or onion juice (or other organic acids) to "set" the designs." --Kate

"A friend of mine was in San Francisco, and saw an woman with the most incredibly intricate henna designs on her hands. When she asked her how she got that result, the woman replied that she *sifted* the henna before she prepared the paste, and got a very fine line that way.

"I personally haven't tried it yet, but my friends in Pittsburgh had a big henna party to prepare for a troupe performance... and their designs looked great!" --Zimra

When I had my hand hennad the artist rubbed eucalyptus oil on my hand. She said it helps the skin accept the henna.
"I did the same thing when I did one of the designs on my foot. That design came out darker than the one I did *without* using the oil.

"Joani (another lister) also told me that she mists her designs lightly with water so they *stay* moist the majority of the time the paste is on the skin. She said this makes her designs last nearly 6 weeks. WOW! I usually only moisten mine occassionally with the lemon juice/sugar mix." --Geneva

Henna Kits

"Yesterday I received a henna kit that I ordered from India, it was pretty cool. The best part was that they enclosed some design "templates", and a big book of designs. They are mostly very intricate Indian-style designs, but there are some smaller, simpler flower motifs and other pretty things. On the back cover of the book is a listing of about 15 other design books that are available. I wrote to the company to see if they have any of these other books & how much they cost. If anyone is interested in this info, please email and let me know, and I'll send it to you and/or post to the list. The book also has detailed instructions for how to make the henna paste -- most of it is very similar to what Zimra and others posted previously, but there are some interesting variations. The kit came with eucalyptus oil, which they say should be added to the paste to bring out the color. I'm going to try it this afternoon, so we'll see........." --Geneva

Info on Henna Kit, Ordering Abroad

"Here is the info on how to get the henna kit from India -- I am copying the email I received from Attar Mohamed Shareef & Sons:
We sell the henna kit for USD 40.0 delivered by airmail. The henna kit would consist of: Henna powder, Henna paste in preprepared cones, Design book, A bottle of eucalyptus oil, Design templates.

You can use the henna powder to make your own cones or you can use the cones supplied. The design book has very exotic designs for the hands and feet. These designs are very popular in India and abroad. The full instructions for henna application would be included in the kit. The henna powder supplied is one of the best and gives very good colour whereas many types give only a weak orange colour. The designs in the book are very intricate and are really stunning. We also include four plastic templates with readymade designs with which you can apply designs easily. Normally the design stays for about three weeks.

We are selling our kits regularly to customers in the US and Europe. After the first purchase our customers buy our powder and paste. Kindly send us a draft for USD 40.0 favouring:
Attar Mohamed Shareef and Sons
84, Poes Garden
Madras- 600 086. India

Kindly also visit our homepage www.wp.com/aromatics for our other products. We can also include perfume oils/sprays of your choice. Henna has a lot of medicinal properties and has been used in India or several centuries. Henna leaves have been boiled in oil and used as henna oil for hair colour and for dandruff removal. It is also an antiseptic. Thanks,
Syed M.Shajahan
email: mdsaac24@giasmd01.vsnl.net.in

"I sent them a cashiers check for the $40.00. I was a little hesitant to send my hard earned $$ overseas, but it worked out great. I also heard there is a place in NYC that sells kits for like $25.00, but I have no idea how to find out info on them.

"I received a lot more than 4 templates with my kit -- about 18 in all. They are made of thin plastic with the design cut out. I tried one last night -- I used very very thick henna paste made from the recipie in the back of the design book ( about the consistency of cookie dough or something) and made like a "mud pack" over the template. That seemed to work pretty well. I taped down the edges of the template with some first-aid tape. It would be nice if I could find templates that are "sticky" and would adhere to the skin so they don't move -- I called Artemis Imports and she has some new templates from Morocco that are apparently adhesive, so I'm having her send some to me; we'll see if they work better!

"I also copied one of the designs from the book using the prepared paste in plastic cones that they sent (they also sent me two empty cones -- they're shaped like ones you make out of parchment paper to decorate cakes). I just punctured the tip, and got a fine line of paste that was pretty easy to just pipe onto my skin. The book is excellent -- the pictures are very large, there are three pages with small individual flower-type designs and curlicues, and it's probably 80 or so pages long. I like it much better than the small pamphlet-type book I got in Berkeley.

"Both designs turned out very well -- I got a nice mahogany-brown stain from the pre-prepared paste, and a more reddish-brown stain from the paste I prepared myself. I used the eucalyptus oil in the paste, as well as rubbing a little of it on my skin before I did the design -- which I don't think was such a good idea, because it seemed to make the henna not stick to my skin as well; maybe I used too much! I used a lemon juice-sugar mixture to dab over it when the paste dried - this makes it stick to your skin better.

"I wrote to Syed and asked him about the other books -- he thinks they may be out of print, but he's checking. Izora said she got a book called "Arabic Ornament" in Berkeley, CA -- I'm going to see if Amazon.com can find it, cause it sounds like another great source!

"Anyway, it's a fun and interesting process. I think it's a beautiful adornment. My husband is a tattoo artist, and people are always amazed that I have no tattoos, even though I love the way they look. I like variety, and this is a perfect way to get it without that lifelong committment!" --Geneva

Info on US Henna Kit

"I found the info on where to order a kit in the US:
Matty Jankowski
New York Body Archive
#9 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Henna kit is $25.00 and includes a tube of paste, design sheets and application instructions. I have no idea how current this info is -- would suggest calling before ordering." --Geneva

"I bought my Henna Kit at Body Archive in New York City. #9 Ninth Avenue. Phone number is 212-807-6441 [same as in post above]. The store is on a second floor level so you may not notice it if you are driving by." --Molly Bode

"Fake" Henna

"Fake" Henna are non-henna items used to draw the designs and give the look of henna without all the trouble and time it takes to use real Henna. The most popular 'quick' menthod is to use a brown Sharpie [brand name of a magic marker that usually is used to write on transparencies, etc., and comes in both water-soluble and waterproof types, as well as varying point thicknesses].

"A word about the Henna topic, I perform a classical form of Indian dance called Khatak. Some in my group are Indian childern. Every time we do a show the mothers of these childern come armed with bottles of bright red fingernail polish. They then spend a good deal of time putting Henna type designs on our hands and feet. I never saw this done in India, but they seemed to feel that this was completly normal, and I did not question it." --Terri Anne

"Yesterday my son (4 yrs old) requested a 'henna design like Mommy's'..... knowing he would never sit still for the 'real thing', I used that brown Sharpie marker trick someone posted a few months ago.... worked like a charm, and my tattoo-artist husband couldn't even tell the difference, he thought I actually used henna! Makes me wonder why I go through all the effort!!! ('cause it's more fun that way!)" --Geneva

"Was wandering through a local discount store & saw this on the rack -- the REvlon folks have a new line of 'body pencils' that are meant to be used not only for eyes/lips but to draw on temporary tattoos -- and they have a suspiciously familiar orange-brown color they call 'Burnt'. The deal is you draw the design on w/the pencils aand then seal it with 'Tattoo Sealer'. Have no idea whether it would hold up to performance wear.. they listed a Web address: www.streetwearit.com if y'all wanna check it out!" --Athena Mizelle

"I have tried these. The pencils are pretty cool, but the 'Tatoo Sealer' is like putting a layer of nail varnish on your skin, and makes a funny, shiny patch, which wrinkles when your skin flexes." --Roya

Henna Practitioners/Artists

"... Lister "John Galt" placed me in the decorated hands of JAYSHREE NENSEY, licensed (and personable!) henna body paint artist. Her twenty years of experience, expertise and talent has made her popular and well-respected, not only within the Indian community, but outside as well. Aside from appointments and teaching mehandi classes, she's busy painting at fairs and other events (she was recently featured at a LA exhibition of mehandi art, covered by the Times). From the cozy living room of her home, I was transported oceans beyond. She meticulously graced my hands, palms and feet with hypnotic rows and swirls of greenish-black, and explained the traditions of henna in their culture. I also learned that henna swabbed onto the soles and palms is good for drawing out "heat" from the body... perfect for summer ailments! The application of cool henna paste on my skin, clean fragrance of eucalpytus oil, and hospitality made this visit pleasurable and relaxing. (No wonder why "mehandi is trendy"! You don't have to be Naomi Campbell, Gwen Stefani, Prince or Liv Tyler to enjoy *this* luxury).

Driving home on the freeway was precarious, as I feared smudging my hands of Art (next visit, there will be a designated driver). The henna paste is now dried, slowly flaking off to reveal the delicate, orange-gold, convoluting motifs of mehandi. I've been converted, dear listers. Indeed, it's fascinatingly beautiful.

Covina, So. Ca.
(818) 332-8843
Licensed Henna Body Paint Artist
Mehandi classes offered every Saturday

PATEL BROTHERS - Ravi and Lati
Henna Supplier
(recommended by Jayshree)
Artesia, CA
(562) 402-2953
Largest Indian & Pakistani Grocery Store in America (also in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Florida, and New Jersey)..." --Kiki

Miscellaneous Info

"There may also be available for purchase henna pens from Pakistan." --Me'ira

"A while ago someone mentioned a Moroccan kind of henna design named "hargoose". I'm sorry but I've forgotten who it was and the main substance of the message - however, to my delight I've just found some info about this in the Everyman Guide to Morocco (a very nice book, BTW). They say "harquz" produces a similar effect to henna, but less permanent, and it's made from charcoal and other "products of fire." There is a list of ingredients but I don't have the book with me - so I'll put them on hubby's henna page later.

"The book has a photo of a hand with harquz and also a woman's face with the siyala and other facial markings done in harquz. I get the impression you leave the harquz on rather than letting it dry and drop off, leaving a stain, like henna.

"I've come across some very dodgy info in guide books (like one that said the guedra was a submissive dance done to attract men - SCREEEEECH!) but this Everyman Guide does seem to have been written by some pretty knowledgeable people, as far as I can tell." --Fiona


Last Modified: 11 Jan 1998
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